Good Idea: A Premier Rock Climbing Gym In/Near Downtown Denver

2011 November 9
by David Schlichter

Movement, a world-class climbing gym in Boulder (photo courtesy of Movement)

Colorado is a rock climbing Mecca.  With over 9,500 established outdoor rock climbing routes within 60 miles, Boulder, in particular, is considered by many climbers to be the best climbing city in which to live.  In addition to all of the established outdoor routes nearby, Boulder is home to three outstanding rock climbing gyms (Movement, Boulder Rock Club, and The Spot), two of which feature both rock climbing and bouldering and one of which (The Spot) exclusively features bouldering.  Denver has it pretty Good, too.  We’re near the same 9,500 outdoor routes, but, surprisingly, we don’t have a single high quality rock climbing gym in or near downtown.

Last week I happened to be heading down to Centennial, CO, and I knew I’d be near one of the two Rock’n and Jam’n locations (the other is in Thornton).  I hadn’t climbed inside in a while, so I threw my rock climbing shoes and harness in my car and decided to stop by the gym while I was in the ‘burbs.  It felt great to get back in the gym.  Both Rock’n and Jam’n locations are spacious, tall (37-40 foot high routes), relatively clean, have super friendly staffs, and feature plenty of Good climbing routes and bouldering areas.  Unfortunately, though, each Rock’n and Jam’n gym is a 20-25 minute drive from downtown Denver…without traffic.

There are two climbing gyms near downtown Denver, but they both have significant drawbacks.  The closest gym to downtown is the Denver Bouldering Club, two blocks southwest of I-25 and 6th Ave.  I like the DBC for what it is.  It is a small, cool spot with an underground feel that–being so close to downtown–is a great option if you only like to boulder and are willing to purchase a membership.  Unfortunately, though, bouldering is all you can do there, and the only times you can go to the gym without being accompanied by a member are Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6pm-10pm.  That is not ideal.

If you want to tie in to a rope or climb any day of the week without necessarily getting a membership, the closest rock climbing gym to downtown Denver for you is Thrillseekers.  Thrillseekers is an old theater at South Broadway and Jewell that has been converted to a small climbing gym.  I like the concept of the rehab; turning a theater into a climbing gym is a neat idea.  The gym has lots of tough routes, but the downside is that Thrillseekers’ ceilings, at 26 feet, are too short.  The space feels small and cramped–the opposite of what rock climbing should feel like.  The gym does what it can to make routes longer by extending routes horizontally across roofs and arches, but most climbers don’t want to get horizontal every time they reach 26 feet.

I grew up in St. Louis, MO, a city in which there is a small–but dedicated–rock climbing community.  In spite of the fact that the rock climbing community there is significantly smaller than here in Denver, St. Louis has had a quality rock climbing gym downtown for years, and the young owners of So iLL Holds are now finishing up the development of a new premier rock climbing gym that will also be near downtown and is slated to open early next year (see video below).  What impresses me most about the new climbing gym, Climb So iLL, is the sense of vision that went into it.  The owners didn’t look to make just another climbing gym–they wanted to make a statement.  The new climbing gym will help rehabilitate a decaying power plant, it is being designed with incredible attention to aesthetics, and the intermediate/advanced area of the gym has a wall that grows to a staggering 55 feet (for some perspective, that’s more than 50% taller than the other gym in downtown St. Louis, more than 37% taller than both Rock’n and Jam’n locations, and more than twice the height of the routes at Thrillseekers).  Below is a video of the development of So iLL in St. Louis–imagine the possibilities for Denver!  (Article continued below.)

If St. Louis, a smaller city with less climbers and an already established quality gym downtown, can support a new premier rock climbing gym, surely Denver can, too.  Anne-Worley Moelter, co-owner and General Manager of Movement in Boulder, strongly agrees.  Movement recently hosted the first indoor Lead Climbing World Cup in the United States in over 20 years, which, in addition to generating revenue for the gym and the city of Boulder, generated international attention for the city (rock climbing is a sport that is ever-growing and is now on the short-list for the 2020 Olympics).  I spoke with Anne-Worley today on the phone about the need for a quality climbing gym in Denver, and she believes Denver is ripe–so ripe, she told me, that her and her husband are already actively searching for a suitable location in Denver for a new gym.  Once they find a location, she estimates it will take between 18 months and two years to complete the project.  Their vision include a high-quality climbing gym, along with fitness, yoga, and cycling to bring in non-climbers, as well.

I’m hopeful that Movement or another entity will soon develop a premier rock climbing gym in or near downtown Denver that really makes a statement.  We’re long overdue.  In terms of Good locations, I think it would be amazing (though it’s probably too late) to include a high-quality climbing gym as part of the Union Station redevelopment.  A new gym could be also included in the rehab/development of another building just north of LoDo, in Five Points, among the warehouses near 6th and I-25, near the Battery621 building (thereby establishing an outdoor adventure hub), on South Broadway, near York and I-70, or in many other places in and surrounding downtown Denver.

What are your thoughts?  While drafting this article, a discussion on this topic began at MountainProject.com.  I encourage you to add your voice to the conversation.  My hunch is that those who might be planning a climbing gym for Denver would love to hear what you think should be incorporated into the new gym’s design, where it should be, and more…

The Good Life Denver is written by David Schlichter.  To stay in the loop, like The Good Life Denver on Facebook and follow @thegoodlifeden on Twitter!

In addition to writing for The Good Life Denver, David works full-time as a Denver real estate agent.  David helps his clients (ranging from first-time home buyers, to sellers, to seasoned investors) achieve their real estate goals.  Contact him today for all of your Denver real estate needs.

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